Spelen in de Stad (Playing in the city)

Piet Parra

In the middle of the Jordaan, on the Tuinstraat, on the façade of the Theo Thijssenschool, is a striking mural with the text ‘Ik speel in de stad – met alles wat er bestaat’ (I play in the city – with everything that exists). There is only one person who could have created this interplay of graceful and bold black letters on a white-painted façade: designer and illustrator Piet Parra.

The attentive observer has probably come across his work in the public space many times before; not as permanent works of art, but in the form of graphic expressions such as posters, flyers or illustrations on T-shirts. Anyone who was part of the urban music scene and skate culture in the early 2000s was aware of Parra; he not only designed album covers for Rednose Distrikt and flyers for parties at club Bitterzoet, but also a pair of Nike Air Max 1 in a distinctive colour palette of magenta, turquoise and dark brown. Also typical Parra are recurring fantasy characters, including voluptuous, beaked women and apples with legs wearing red, high-heeled boots. 

But in this work for a primary school, the first work of art that Piet Parra realized in the public space of Amsterdam (today, several of his works are found in the city), he goes back to the basics, using only letters in black-and-white. The fact that he managed to create a brilliant work of art using such basic elements shows his typographical ingenuity. The text is a line of poetry by pupil Lisa van de Schouw, created during a poetry competition at school. ‘I play in the city’ is not only reminiscent of child’s play, but also of skating and graffiti; the city, ‘with everything that exists’ forms an invitation to creatively appropriate.

– Radna Rumping